Skip navigation
Help

Patti Smith

warning: Creating default object from empty value in /var/www/vhosts/sayforward.com/subdomains/recorder/httpdocs/modules/taxonomy/taxonomy.pages.inc on line 33.

This SlideShowPro photo gallery requires the Flash Player plugin and a web browser with JavaScript enabled.

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls
ESSAY CONTAINS IMPLICIT CONTENT

Michael Webster

New York

play this essay

 

The mythology of New York is known to anyone who has watched more than a dozen hours of television or skimmed magazines in a dentist’s office. But like ancient Greece, New York is too big to have a single, central story; its myth is carried by its demigods, or what in show business they call types.

Take a type we’ll call the New York Tough Guy. Now, there are tough guys all over the world; wherever you live you probably know at least one of them, and so the term “tough guy” will call him, specifically, to mind. This guy you know who talked about knocking a guy out as if it were nothing, and looked as if he could do it, is a tough guy, for instance.

But link these terms to New York and the focus shifts. The New York Tough Guy, for example, may be someone you saw perp-walked on the cover of the New York Post. Or he may be some actor who mugged a character on a movie you saw that was set in New York. He may be an antique figure with cross-hatched stubble, a lantern jaw, and a black eye-mask like the Beagle Boys wear in Scrooge McDuck comics. Maybe he’s tough in something other than a physical way. Some people (certainly not you, sophisticated reader) think Donald Trump is tough. Some people (perhaps you, sophisticated reader) think Anthony Bourdain is.

In any case, this image you’ve conjured matches the term New York Tough Guy more than the authentic avatars you actually know because there is Tough and then there is New York Tough, which may or may not be real Tough but which is certainly real New York. You almost have to imagine the Tough Guy standing defiantly against a filthy brick wall at night, harshly illuminated by car headlamps, and probably wearing shades, because all the New York Tough Guys wear shades. (Doesn’t Jay-Z? Didn’t Lou Reed?)

I’m not saying these people aren’t real tough guys, though I do think if somebody came at them with a knife a few of them might not react totally in character. I’m saying the Tough Guy, the Fast Talker, the Big Shot, the Wise-Cracking Waitress, the Hard-Bitten Journalist, et alia, are mythic figures. By that I don’t mean that they’re fake, though they often are, but that their usefulness is not to be found in the real world, but in the dream landscape that explains New York to the world and to itself.

This is why you often see people move to New York and immediately start conforming to stereotype. The pressure, whether overtly felt or only dimly sensed, of being part of something as overwhelming as New York blows the mind of anyone who does not have a perfectly solid-state personality, which is to say most of us. So citizens psychically run for cover under the robes and aegides of the demigods of New York myth.

(Where do you think hipsters  — that is to say, New York Hipsters — come from? New York magazine? Pitchfork media? They come from Patti Smith via Marlon Brando via George Cram Cook via Walt Whitman via Edgar Allan Poe via some ur-Hipster whom Peter Stuyvesant had to keep putting in the stocks for shirking.)

You and I could sit here all night identifying the constellations in the New York galaxy, but I wish to draw your attention to the least acknowledged member of the pantheon, who is nonetheless as important as any other: The Out-of-Towner.

The Out-of-Towner, aka The Greenhorn, aka The Rube, belongs to the mythology, too. His is a special role. Because one thing is true of all of the other New York demigods: They are Wised-Up. So they are all pretty evenly matched, and also extremely motivated to get over on one another. If they had only one another to deal with, things would quickly get ugly and stale — like the Manhattan of Escape from New York, an island of madmen with whom the rest of the world cannot deal.

The Out-of-Towner brings some air and light into the action. For one thing, he can be a victim, and replenish the ecosystem with whatever the wise guys can get out of him. He can be a foil, a straight man to set up their jokes and set off their unique qualities, and an audience to flatter the endless self-regard of the true New Yorker. And on occasion and with sufficient motivation, the Out-of-Towner can stick around and, if he has the moxie, become a citizen himself.

Indeed, every New Yorker who was not born there enters the town in this role, and struggles to divest himself of it. Why, for example, do New Yorkers respond so positively to being asked for directions? Because this offers them the chance to show that they’re not Out-of-Towners. (This is especially important in front of present Out-of-Towners.)

But there’s a catch. Every wise guy in New York is in perpetual danger of reverting to Out-of-Towner status. For one thing, the town is always changing — hot spots, catchphrases, top Filipino lunch places — and it’s a struggle to keep up. But more importantly, unless he has become so jaded that nothing at all matters to him anymore, the wise guy will always retain a touch of Out-of-Towner about him. The things that excited him before still excite him — though he has become of necessity very good at concealing it, lest he over-effuse and give his roots away.

All this is to begin to say what I like so much about Michael Webster’s “New York.” I do admire the formal schtick of shooting it all from the top of one of those horrible tourist double-deckers that strafe the streets (ah, there I go, sounding like a wise guy). But it’s more what the schtick reveals that pleases me. The tour bus passengers — sometimes cheaply plastic-slickered against rainy weather — seem anonymous, ordinary, like the opposite of the thing they’re observing. (And those few observed New Yorkers who notice them seem surprised but unimpressed.) But the New York vistas and tableaux that Webster sees are lovely, specific and suggestive at the same time; you could write novels about the five folks waiting for the Seventh Avenue bus, for instance, or just bask in their ennui. And the wonderful thing is, they are as available to those bus-riding Out-of-Towners as they are to anyone else. Like those two well-dressed Indian folks in the front row: They certainly look like they’re enjoying the scene. Maybe they, too, see in New York what we see. Or maybe — you know, we can hardly admit it, even now — they see more.

– Roy Edroso

 

 

Bio

Michael Webster is a photographer currently living in Brooklyn.

 

Related links

Michael Webster

Roy Edroso

0
Your rating: None

life:

What makes color photographs by Henri Cartier-Bresson so rare?

There’s a reason, it turns out, why coming across his color photos can be so jarring; not only did Cartier-Bresson infrequently shoot in color, but he destroyed virtually all of his color negatives, leaving an almost exclusively black-and-white legacy to future generations. Finding out that Cartier-Bresson shot professionally in color — and sometimes worked on major assignments in color — is a bit like reading Just Kids and learning that Patti Smith is not only a poet, but a thrilling, moving, utterly masterful writer of prose. One has a sense of happy surprise and, somehow, of enlargement.

One of Cartier-Bresson’s most significant color projects was a 1958 assignment for LIFE: a four-month, 7,000 mile tour through communist China during that country’s convulsive “great leap forward,” when the huge, ancient nation was being alternately pushed and pulled, dragged and harried by its leaders to leave its past behind and to embrace industrialization, collectivism and the precepts of Chairman Mao.

See the layouts from this photo essay here.

0
Your rating: None

[Edit on Saturday 30 April 2011: I have updated the 'In Memoriam | Tim Hetherington 1970-2011 Chris Hondros 1970-2011' post today. Check the bottom of that post for the most recent link additions. Some news about Guy Martin's condition... BJP posted an update on his situation: 'Injured British photographer arrives in Malta'. ]

From Tuesday’s news…..25 years since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster…

Appropriate day to watch Paul Fusco’s Magnum in Motion classic ‘Chernobyl Legacy’ again….

Features and Essays – Paul Fusco: Chernobyl Legacy (Magnum in Motion: April 2011)

Features and Essays – Gary Knight: Chernobyl (VII Magazine: April 2011)

Features and Essays – Diana Markosian: 25 Years After Chernobyl, a Village Persists (NYT Lens: April 2011) Markosian’s website.

Features and Essays –  Alvaro Ybarra Zavala: Egypt’s Christians (Reportage by Getty Images: April 2011)

New Ed Ou portfolios on Reportage site as well…including his Libya work..

So is Jerome Sessini’s Libya work.

Features and Essays – Simon Norfolk: Kabul: A Boomtown of Sorts (NYT Mag: April 2011) Related from NYT Lens ‘Collaboration Across 130 Years’

TIME 100 most influential people list or whatever it is… is out… I don’t put much or any importance to the said list… but they have assigned a lot of great photographers for it… Including Martin Schoeller…

Interviews –  Martin Schoeller : Pheasants, tigers and revolutionaries (TIME LB: April 2011) Martin Schoeller’s TIME 100 Tour

On two minds about whether to post this… Not a Bieber fan… heheh… But Ladefoged fan definitely…

Features and Essays - Joachim Ladefoged:  Under the Influence of Justin Bieber (TIME LB: April 2011)

Features and Essays – Jan Banning: Faceless Officials (Guardian: April 2011)

Articles – Martin Parr: Photographic Cliches (Photographer’s blog: April 2011) via @dcuthbert

InterviewsKira Pollack, Director of Photography of TIME (NYPH: April 2011)

Check this Enrico Bossan interview… Enrico is a great guy… I got to know him in quite a funny way… Sometime last summer I received a Skype contact request from someone called Enrico Bossan, with whose work I was not familiar, but I accepted…Enrico gave me call later on the day..He wanted to get in touch to congratulate me for having some of my work published in L’Espresso… I was gobsmacked..I said I didn’t know I had any work published in the magazine.. Enrico was baffled.. He went back to the newsagents’ and came back with a copy of the magazine… It turned out he had confused Andy Spyra‘s work to mine….Needless to say I was teeny weeny bit disappointed that I hadn’t had work in the mag myself, but I’m glad Enrico made the mistake. Otherwise I might have not got to talk with him…We’ve had a couple of rather long chats online since, and I’ve learned a lot from him, especially regarding editing..

Interviews - Enrico Bossan (NYPH: April 2011)

Features and Essays – Simon Roberts: The English at Play (BBC: April 2011) Brighton-based photographer Simon Roberts travelled the length and breadth of England in a motorhome for his book We English – in which he tries to capture a nation at play, and explore the relationship between people and the places they visit.

Essential Roberts interview on a blog that I just discovered…

Interviews - Simon Roberts (Two Way Lens: April 2011)

I am happy  Goldberg won….The rest of the three nominees didn’t impress me at all…

News - Jim Goldberg wins Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2011 (BJP: April 2011)

InterviewsJim Goldberg (Photonet.org.uk: April 2011)

InterviewsMarcel Mettelsiefen : Photographing War in Misurata (Spiegel: April 2011)

photo: Ivor Prickett

Features and Essays – Foto8: The Islam Issue preview (Foto8: April 2011)

Powerful multimedia on prostitution in Nashville by Stephen Alvarez and the NPR team…below is a still from the online article..

Features and Essays – Stephen Alvarez: Nashville Prostitution (NPR: April 2011)

Features and Essays – Bryan Denton: Battle for Influence in Afghanistan (WSJ: April 2011)

InterviewsBruce Davidson (Guardian: April 2011) Davidson talks about his long career. | Related: Bruce Davidson  seeks British girl he captured on film in 1960 (Guardian: April 2011)

InterviewsAaron Huey (TIME LB: April 2011) Pine Ridge Billboard Project

InterviewsTomas van Houtryve : 130 Editors: Insights from a photographer’s first crowdfunded project (Emphas.is: April 2011)

Initiatives - 3/11 Tsunami Photo Project  / The initiative featured on New Yorker Photo Booth and on BJP

InitiativesA Fixer In Need (TIME LB: April 2011) Photographer Marcus Bleasdale writes about the importance of fixers— a fixer whom he’s worked with is in need of help.  | The Pastor Marrion Fund

Exhibitions - Paul Graham: Smoke and mirrors (Guardian: April 2011) Paul Graham’s exhibition at London’s Whitechapel gallery

Awards – PDN: LA Times, Washington Post Photographers Win Pulitzers for Photos (PDN: April 2011)

ExhibitionsHere and Now Show  : LCC International MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography : HotShoe gallery : London : 11-24 May  : Participating photographers are Yolanda Crisp, Daniel Cuthbert, Ivy Lahon, Greg Laychak, James Morgan, Nektarios Markogiannis, Claudius Schulze, Amelia Shepherd, Alice Smeets and Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Vivian Maier website now launched

Articles – Guardian: Henri Cartier-Bresson in 1950s Moscow (Guardian April 2011)

It has been a very rare occasion for me to write to photographers just to let them know I really like their work… Not a rare occasion because I wouldn’t admire a lot of photographers’ work…of course I do, but because getting in touch just to let people know that has always felt tad awkward, like I’m trying to kiss people’s ass.. Well, I did write somebody once, not too long ago… and that photographer was NYT staffer Damon Winter…and he even took the time to send a short reply despite being on assignment in Afghanistan, which was very thoughtful of him…well, Winter is the latest photographer featured on 500Photographers blog…

Blogs – 500Photographers: #276 Damon Winter (500Photographers: April 2011)

Articles – Newsweek: Photographs from the John G. Morris collection go up for auction (Newsweek: April 2011)

Articles – Guardian: Featured photojournalist: Jon Nazca (Guardian: April 2011)

I’m a huge Patti Smith fan…

Interviews - Patti Smith: Photographer’s Muse (TIME LB: April 2011)

New Statesman Photo editor Rebecca McClelland now on Twitter…

Twitter@rlmcclelland

 GrantsBURN emerging photorapher grant of $15,000 :  Deadline for entry is May 15, 2011

InterviewsPhilip Scott Andrews (NYT Lens: April 2011)

Photographers - Harry Borden

PhotographersNatalie Keyssar

PhotographersTina Remiz

PhotographersPhilip Scott Andrews

InterviewsJohn Stanmeyer (Youtube)

InterviewsTaylor Kitsch on The Bang Bang Club, Honoring Fallen War Photographers (Movieline: April 2011)

Articles - Guardian: Turning Photojournalism Upside Down (Guardian: April 2011)

Tips and Tutorials – Brian Storm: 10 quick tips on editing multimedia (businessjournalism.org: April 2011)

Tips and TutorialsMemory Cards – 15 Essential Tips for Photographers (photofocus.com)

EventsASA collective :  Slideshow on Thursday 5th of May, 2011 :  @ Nomad, Old Street : “This month’s show is totally dedicated to female photographers, with a top class line up that includes:  Andrea Star Reese Ciara Leeming Chloe Dewe Mathews Helen Rimell Laura Hynd Leonie Hampton Marta Moreiras”

0
Your rating: None